Few artists have achieved the success and celebrity of Pablo Picasso or been so instrumental in fashioning the public’s understanding of what art and the artist can be. By the end of his long life, Picasso had become the defining artist of his century. His career spanned nearly 80 years and numerous celebrated love affairs — and although he saw himself primarily as a painter, he had worked in almost every medium, from ceramics to theatrical design.
Born in Malaga in 1881, the young Picasso displayed a precocious talent that was fostered by his father, a university art teacher. At the age of 14 he was producing astonishingly accomplished works like Girl with Bare Feet (1895). Yet, as he was to say famously of his early training, ‘It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.’ It was Picasso’s quest for this playful, primal and childlike perspective that would come to define his work and have such a profound effect on the course of modern art.
His first success was forged at the tail end of Post-Impressionism, having settled in Montmartre, Paris, in the early 1900s. Following flirtations with Symbolism during his Blue and Rose Periods, he became increasingly influenced by Cezanne and then by non-Western art. In 1907 he produced his Primitivist masterpiece painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). By 1908, he and Georges Braque had taken Primitivism a step further with their development of Cubism. Beautifully exampled in Picasso’s Woman with Guitar (‘Ma Jolie’) (1911–12), Cubism tore up the rules of single-perspective representation that had defined art since the Renaissance. It was a revolutionary moment that would dictate the course of 20th-century art.
Picasso would live in France until his death in 1973, continuously inventing and responding to the ideas of the wider artistic world and producing some of the defining works of the 20th century. Guernica (1937), Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) (1955), his portraits of Dora Maar, his minotaur etchings, his salvage sculptures and ceramics all continue to stand as testament to his versatile and prolific talent. Picasso was businessman, genius and maverick in equal measure.